Salazar Family: Tracing Origins From New México, To San Luis Valley, And Denver
History Colorado is gathering and sharing memories that celebrate our state’s rich Hispano culture. Here, Madalena Salazar shares the second in our new monthly series produced exclusively withThe Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
The year 2009 was a time of tumult, personally, and for many Americans. I had recently received my MA, was between jobs, had a long-distance relationship growing, and returned to my home in Albuquerque from a short stint in Brooklyn. Frustrated by job prospects, I began seeking elsewhere, with Denver being my top choice. A couple months in, there was no question. To my surprise and joy, I learned I was pregnant. I would move to Denver to build a new family with my partner, who was established here.
In 2010, I left my deep roots in my beloved New México to make a new start and build a family. I look back now surprised at my courage, and grateful for the support Denver has given me.
As a historian, I moved to Denver with the knowledge that the region was historically part of New México and México before—it could be like home. I moved to the Westside of Denver, an area well known in my family as the old Chicano neighborhood. (Also, well known in my family was the segregation and racism people of color experienced in Colorado.) I felt proud knowing that West Denver was a famous epicenter of el Movimiento, but anyone I mentioned my address to replied with, “OH! You live there? Aren’t you scared?”—implying that I should be afraid to live among my gente. So, I spent time getting to know the area, spending each day walking Dry Creek Gulch and Sloan’s Lake (before there were cranes in the skyline). I took the bus to Santa Fe Drive (named for its place on the Santa Fe Trail—the route from Santa Fe to Kansas City) to volunteer at the Museo de las Américas, where I met friends and mentors with whom I work alongside to this day.
Eventually, I had my son, became a mother, and spent my days getting to know him. Later, I found work, first teaching on Auraria Campus and then as the first Latino Cultural Programs Coordinator at the Denver Art Museum (my dream job). I got to know more of my community (who asked, “Are you one of the Salazares?”) and tried to advocate for institutional changes on their behalf. With a troubled heart, I left that position to get to know my next son. Soon after, I learned that my father, the Salazar I never knew, had passed away. In Denver. I met my eldest brother, and my niece. I learned, yes, I am one of the Salazares. While we trace our roots to the very first settlers of New México, my great grandparents helped to settle the San Luis Valley of Colorado, where many of my primos live today.
The longer I am away, the more I miss my New México, but I am also learning how my aunties and uncles and cousins helped shaped Colorado, and sometimes the nation. Before me, they were working to build up Colorado’s hispano/mexicano/chicano communities. I carry that forward on behalf of and alongside my community here and beyond, for us now and for our hijos. I am grateful to Denver. Here I became a mother, a wife, a professional—someone more complete than I had been before.
Madalena Salazar is an arts administrator and educator who works in Denver’s arts and culture industry. She has developed programs and advocated for the needs of marginalized communities in the arts.
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